Thursday 10 November 2016

Haruki Murakami and Mahler's Phantom Memoirs

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese novelist best known for his dreamily surreal books and his continued failure to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His friendship with conductor Seiji Ozawa has resulted in a new book, a series of conversations on music. An extract appeared in Saturday’s Guardian, and it left me scratching my head:

HM: Mahler says in his autobiography that being director of the Vienna State Opera was the top position in the musical world. In order to obtain that position, he went so far as to abandon his Jewish faith and convert to Christianity. He felt the position was worth making such a sacrifice. It occurs to me that you were in that very position until quite recently.

SO: He really said that, did he? Do you know how many years he was director of the State Opera?

HM: Ten years, I think.

Mahler’s autobiography, huh? A shelf full of Murakami books and an interest (in case you hadn’t noticed) in classical music will probably lead me to buy this book, but the lengthy extract on Mahler didn’t convince me that any real insight lay within. Particularly as Mahler never wrote an autobiography. 

Monday 7 November 2016

Back Reviewing Concerts: Nicholas McGegan Conducts the Bournemouth Symphony

Nicholas McGegan © Steve J Sherman
Conductor Nicholas McGegan (Photo: Steve J Sherman)
I haven’t reviewed a concert in quite a while, so it was good to get back in the business, thanks to Bachtrack. Conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra certainly brought sensitivity and vitality to a collection of pieces by Shcubert, Mozart and Beethoven:

"At the other end of the programme, a rather more serious proposition in four movements: Schubert’s reasonably early but oh-so-mature Fifth Symphony. A product of Schubert’s 19th year, the Fifth demonstrates the charms of a composer who never seems to have suffered the stylistic growing pains of a man struggling for a mature voice. It was here that McGegan drew the best from the BSO, letting the music flow, bringing it to life by making the most of dynamic contrasts and pointed accents. He saw no need to tug at the tempi, and the orchestra responded with playing of considerable subtlety, a case in point being the hushed but nuanced sound of the strings giving space to the conversations of wind instruments as the first movement slipped from exposition to development."

Read the whole thing at Bachtrack.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Silent Film Epic Napoleon Finally to be Released on DVD and Blu Ray


I let out a little squeal of excitement when I saw that the BFI had announced a DVD/Blu Ray release of Abel Gance’s legendary (how many things so justify that word?) 1927 film Napoleon. It has popped up occasionally at the Royal Festival Hall, accompanied by a compilation score by Carl Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Legal wrangling caused many film buffs to gloomily predict it would never be seen on DVD, but here it comes, this November.

The film’s epic proportions don’t stop at its duration. The 5 ½ hour running time is not its most startling dimension; rather, an incredible three-screen panoramic section makes it a very unusual visual spectacle. The extravagant demands imposed by the film on cinemas made it a real rarity for half a century, until film historian and restorer Kevin Brownlow brought it back to life, only to be faced with complicated legal issues that meant his version was not seen in the US until 2012. Brownlow’s version has been coupled with a score compiled from popular classics, replacing the original music by Arthur Honegger (there is a suite), which seems to have been lost in the 90 years since the film’s production.

These sorts of film restoration projects are not at all cheap to produce, so if you want to see this epic slice of cinema history, I’d suggest supporting the BFI by seeing one of their cinema screenings or buying a copy while it’s out there.